Julius Whittier

Former Texas football player Julius Whittier has filed a $50 million class action lawsuit against the NCAA, according to KEYE-TV.

Whittier, the first African-American player in school history, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. He claims the repeated head trauma he sustained during his playing career caused his health issues.

According to KEYE-TV, Whittier’s lawsuit against the NCAA “includes all former NCAA football players who played from 1960-2014 who did not go on to play professional football and who have been diagnosed with a latent brain injury or disease.”

Whittier played for Texas from 1969-1972 as an offensive lineman and tight end. His lawsuit states the NCAA breached its duty to protect players “in the face of long-standing and overwhelming evidence regarding the need to do so.”

Julius Whittier was the first African-American to play for TexasÂ’ football team. The San Antonio native was a lineman and played for the team the year after they won the 1969 national championship. That Texas team was the last all-white team to win the national championship.

Photo Credit: Jeff Heimsath | Daily Texan Staff

Texas fans rejoiced euphorically on Dec. 6, 1969, as the Longhorns defeated Arkansas, 15-14, in the national championship game.

It was a game that would long be celebrated for what the Longhorns had accomplished on the field, but history was also being made among the members of the team itself.

Behind the confetti, excited fans and post-game interviews was a historical change in college athletics that few were conscious of. The 1969 Texas team was the last all-white football team to bring in a national championship title. As his teammates battled the Razorbacks on the field, freshman Julius Whittier watched the televised game from Jester Center dormitory, ineligible to play as a freshman. By his sophomore year, as Texas contended for the national title once again, Whittier was a sophomore offensive lineman. He earned a varsity letter his sophomore, junior and senior year and started the latter two years of his college career and was the first African-American player to letter for Texas.

“I was a jock, plain and simple,” Whittier told The New York Times in an interview. “I didn’t care about civil rights or making a mark. I just wanted to play big-time football.”

But in the South, gaining one’s civil rights was no small challenge. Applicant Heman Sweatt sued the University of Texas in 1946 after being rejected from the School of Law because of his race. The law school’s segregation policy was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1950, but it took until 1956 for all UT’s academic programs to be integrated.

The integration of sports teams took place years earlier in the North. William Henry Lewis was the first African-American player in major college football and played at Amherst University from 1889 to 1891, and in 1942, Bill Willis played on the national championship team for Ohio State.

UT’s athletic programs took a bit longer to follow suit. African-American students weren’t allowed to participate in varsity sports until 1963, and the Southwest Conference was not hasty in recruiting African-Americans to play.

Head coach Darrell Royal attempted to recruit African-American athletes to play for UT, but many were turned off by the University’s reputation for racist tendencies and slow integration.

In 1967, E.A. Curry tried out for the freshman football team and earned a place on the roster but was sidelined by grades and did not continue to play for UT. In 1968, Leon O’Neal II became the first African-American to receive a football scholarship to the University but did not return after his first year.

Whittier was a standout player at an integrated San Antonio high school, blessed not only with a gift for the game but also an innate confidence and a self-described oratorical knack.

Despite the warnings of his friends and family, Whittier joined the team in 1969 as a freshman.

“I basically came here for my purposes, which was to play football,” Whittier said in an interview with Texassports.com. “In spite of what a lot of people thought might happen when I came up here, I had a ball.”

While Whittier has said he didn’t mind being the only African-American player on the roster, he’s also noted that he wasn’t always treated like every other member of the football team. He was not invited out to parties by his teammates and struggled to find a roommate his sophomore year.

Teammate Billy Dale, a senior running back who scored the winning touchdown of the 1970 Cotton Bowl, agreed to room with Whittier.

“I lost all my friends,” Dale told The New York Times. “I chose to live with Julius because I believed it would add that much more dimension to me as a person.”

Whittier’s tenure at UT paved the way for other black athletes. Running back Roosevelt Leaks was recruited in 1971, Earl Campbell in 1974.

Whittier’s time at UT also allowed him to cross into the path of Lyndon B. Johnson, who recommended that Whittier continue his studies at the University’s School of Public Affairs.

“I got a chance to go to graduate school,” Whittier told the UT football team during a 2010 visit. “I met President Johnson and he told me he would enjoy knowing I had at least examined the program at that school.”

Whittier followed Johnson’s advice, enrolled and graduated from the LBJ School in 1976. Today, he works as a trial lawyer in Dallas.

Whittier has repeatedly said that he doesn’t consider himself a pioneer, but head football coach Mack Brown feels a bit differently.

“He’s a hero,” said Brown in an interview with Texassports.com. “He opened doors for many other kids that have come behind him. Thank goodness that it’s a much better world today than it was in 1969.”

Whittier returned to UT in 2010 to speak to the team in a stadium named after his former coach. Brown made sure his players understood the importance of Whittier’s contribution.

“Think about it. This is history,” Brown told his team during Whittier’s visit. “You’re seeing history right here. You’re seeing the reason that a lot of you were allowed to come.” 

Lineman first to break color barrier at Texas

Julius Whittier made an impromptu visit to Texas football practice Wednesday afternoon. If the players didn’t know who the man was as he walked onto the field in blue jeans and a black sweater, they certainly knew who he was by the end of the day.

Per the request of head coach Mack Brown, Whittier addressed the mass of kneeling players after practice. He spoke in the subjects such as hitting the books, holding the goal of a college degree to utmost esteem and finding something they love to study. The players might have thought they were being lectured by an old college professor if not for the introduction given by Bill Little, the longtime overseer of Texas Media Relations.

“We have a very special guest for you guys today,” he said. “This is Julius Whittier, and he was the first African-American to ever letter in football here. This is history.”

When Whittier first came to play football on the 40 Acres from his hometown of San Antonio in 1969, he did so against the advice of his close friends and family.

“Everybody told me not to come play football here,” he said. “They told me that they were racists and they had the Ku Klux Klan and all that. But everything I was told about the University of Texas wasn’t true.”

Forty years ago, freshmen weren’t eligible to play, so Whittier had to watch his older teammates defeat Arkansas for the 1969 national championship game. In 1970, Texas was once again a national champion. This time, Whittier was able to play. As an offensive guard at a time when Texas, under legendary head coach Darrell Royal, ran the famed “three yards and a cloud of dust” wishbone offense, Whittier paved the way for those running behind him.

One of the first to recognize Whittier as he entered the field through the south end zone was longtime fan and friend of Royal, Louis Murillo. He is the man who says Bobby Layne, the star quarterback of the 1944-47 Texas teams, is the best he’s ever seen play, so it would be safe to say that Murillo knows a little something about his Longhorns.

“I’ll tell you what,” Murillo said. “There have been a lot of guys to come through this program since I’ve been here, but none of them played like Julius Whittier. He was so strong and so quick, and I haven’t seen an offensive lineman with that combination of skills since he left.”

But what Whittier will always be remembered and embraced for was what he did to get onto the field, not what he did while on it. Despite being the first black letterman in the team’s history and one of roughly 100 black students at Texas at the time, Whittier said he didn’t face any true racial hostility. As for the effect that he had on the future of the program, he doesn’t feel that he did anything that anybody else couldn’t have done, given the opportunity.

“I’m not a pioneer,” Whittier said. “I wasn’t a hero. I wasn’t being put in a capsule and going out to the moon. I just wanted to play football and Texas wanted me to play for them.”

Sure, the Texas coaches wanted Whittier to play for them; his talent and intangibles were obvious. But not everybody at the University felt the same way. Though integration had been mandated, there were still many who thought that the football field should be a place without color.

“Most whites at UT were not for integration,” Whittier said. “I have to thank Coach Royal for making it possible that I played here. He stuck his neck out for me and he believed that UT should be an opportunity for people of all colors, despite what everybody around him was saying otherwise.”

By the time Whittier graduated from law school and went on to pursue his career as a district attorney, the cultural makeup of the football program had begun to change. Whittier was instrumental in the recruitment of Roosevelt Leaks, who went on to star as running back. Leaks’ success led to the arrival of Earl Campbell, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1977. Last year, 21 of Texas’ 25 football recruits were African-American. Five years ago, a black quarterback led Texas to the national championship.

Whittier, who currently resides in Dallas, is in town for today’s Arthur Miller Dialogue, a panel discussion on sports, media and race at the LBJ Auditorium.

“There’s going to be a lot of people hoorah-ing the idea blacks should have the opportunities to play in front of thousands of people,” he said. “But I would like to talk about the dangerous head injuries that football is generating today. I talked to a lot of people about that at [Wednesday’s] practice.”

The panel discussion will offer a variety of topics — just the way Whittier likes it. Topics of his conversations at practice ranged from the aforementioned head injuries to the great number of school libraries available to students. He talked about LeBron James with junior kicker Justin Tucker and made sure to ask freshman quarterback Case McCoy how his brother, Colt, was doing with the Cleveland Browns. He greeted a long line of players and coaches after his brief talk with the team. He spent some time with defensive ends coach Oscar Giles, who thanked him for his contributions to the program. Freshman receiver Mike Davis and he spoke not of football but of home, as both hail from the Dallas area.

It was getting dark and all the players and coaches had walked back up to their locker rooms and offices at the Moncrief-Neuhaus athletics center. Practice was over, but Whittier still had one more person to talk to. As he walked to the parking lot, he saw a larger-than-life picture of a smiling Darrell Royal on the side of a Texas equipment truck. Displaying the athleticism that earned him a football scholarship many years ago, Whittier jumped up and gave the picture a tap and let out a big, “What’s up, coach!”

Smiling, he turned away from the truck.

“Man, coach was the best,” he said. “I owe everything to him.”

Royal had coached a lot of football players in his time, but he’ll always have a special place in his heart for Whittier.

“He was an outstanding player and an outstanding person,” Royal said. “I wish I had had about six Julius Whittiers.”